Ryan Schram Yawahigu ana amwahao

Introduction

Yauwedo and welcome

Hi, I am Ryan Schram. I currently teach anthropology at the University of Sydney, where I have worked since 2011.

As a cultural anthropologist, I have always been most interested in the encounters between cultures and their diverse and unequal consequences in human history.

Cultural anthropology’s most important contribution to this topic is its assumption that these encounters themselves are always mediated by the same constructs that coordinate people’s shared understanding of the world.

To interact with an other is to make the other part of one’s own story about the world, and to become part of the story they too are telling about their world. In any interaction, we must first be social scientists before we can be social subjects, whether across social, cultural, or political boundaries, or with our own neighbors. Social existence is not possible without each person’s own production of knowledge of social process.

My work as an anthropologist has been to observe and reflect on the distributed, collaborative, collective processes by which people reflexively link each moment in their lives to larger narratives. Unlike academic social science, social actors theorize their social relationships prospectively and pragmatically. The actor’s own accounts of social process anticipate the actions of others. We and they solicit each others’ confirmation of our respective accounts, and we adjust our own understanding of the moment. The practical social knowledge of social actors is a “self-fulfilling prophecy” (Merton 1948).

Yet pace Merton not everybody’s prophecies of social process are fulfilled. Throughout the world, people tell many different kinds of stories about their lives with others—and new kinds of stories emerge all the time—yet few of these narratives of society and history are given credibility and authority. The social sciences are only one historically specific institutionalization of people studying people. And, indeed, the social sciences are often only the state’s theory of society. Not only is a certain fluency in this dominant social epistemology necessary for people’s public recognition, but also a denial of their capacity to know themselves on their own terms. This, I think, is especially important for cultural anthropologists, since ethnographic knowledge in the postcolonial world is a public record of difference. Under these conditions, how do people produce new, alternative accounts of themselves and their relationships to the rest of the world?

On this site, you see how I have worked on this and other questions, first in my ethnographic research on the society of Auhelawa in Papua New Guinea (PNG), and more recently in my study of postcolonial PNG’s uniquely ethnographic citizenship as seen in the news discourse of PNG mass print media. I also present information on my teaching and my other professional activities.

The images used on the site

The background and other elements of the pages on this site are decorated with images of a few items from my collection of baskets and bilums from PNG, and a pandanus skirt that was originally produced an Auhelawa mother for her daughter’s extra credit assignment at Kurada Primary School.

How this site is maintained

I maintain the pages on this site in much the same way that I draft any writing and, increasingly, prepare class materials: as plaintext documents. The underlying data and documents are storied in a collection of text files, each of which contains metadata in YAML and content in Markdown. I have a script in Python that runs each item through Pandoc and produces the indexes for each part of the site as static HTML pages.

References

Merton, Robert K. 1948. “The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.” The Antioch Review 8 (2): 193–210. https://doi.org/10.2307/4609267.